The history of the stone which was eventually named the Hope Diamond began when the French merchant traveler, Jean Baptiste Tavernier, purchased a 112 3/16-carat diamond. This diamond, which was most likely from the Kollur mine in Golconda, India, was somewhat triangular in shape and crudely cut. Its color was described by Tavernier as a “beautiful violet.”
Tavernier sold the diamond to King Louis XIV of France in 1668 with 14 other large diamonds and several smaller ones. In 1673, the stone was recut by Sieur Pitau, the court jeweler, resulting in a 67 1/8-carat stone. In the royal inventories, its color was described as an intense steely-blue and the stone became known as the “Blue Diamond of the Crown,” or the “French Blue.” It was set in gold and suspended on a neck ribbon which the king wore on ceremonial occasions.
King Louis XV, in 1749, had the stone reset by court jeweler Andre Jacquemin, in a piece of ceremonial jewelry for the Order of the Golden Fleece (Toison D’Or). In 1791, after an attempt by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to flee France, the jewels of the French Royal Treasury were turned over to the government. During a week-long looting of the crown jewels in September of 1792, the French Blue diamond was stolen.
In 1812, a deep blue diamond described by John Francillion as weighing 177 grains (4 grains = 1 carat) was documented as being in the possession of London diamond merchant, Daniel Eliason. Strong evidence indicates that the stone was the recut French Blue and the same stone known today as the Hope Diamond. Several references suggest that it was acquired by King George IV of the United Kingdom. At his death, in 1830, the king’s debts were so enormous that the blue diamond was likely sold through private channels.
The first reference to the diamond’s next owner is found in the 1839 entry of the gem collection catalog of the well-known Henry Philip Hope, the man from whom the diamond takes its name. Unfortunately, the catalog does not reveal where or from whom Hope acquired the diamond or how much he paid for it.
Following the death of Henry Philip Hope in 1839, and after much litigation, the diamond passed to his nephew Henry Thomas Hope and ultimately to the nephew’s grandson Lord Francis Hope. In 1901 Lord Francis Hope obtained permission from the Court of Chancery and his sisters to sell the stone to help pay off his debts. It was sold to a London dealer who quickly sold it to Joseph Frankels and Sons of New York City, who retained the stone in New York until they, in turn, needed cash. The diamond was next sold to Selim Habib who put it up for auction in Paris in 1909. It did not sell at the auction but was sold soon after to C.H. Rosenau and then resold to Pierre Cartier that same year.
In 1910 the Hope Diamond was shown to Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, of Washington D.C., at Cartier’s in Paris, but she did not like the setting. Cartier had the diamond reset and took it to the U.S. where he left it with Mrs. McLean for a weekend. This strategy was successful. The sale was made in 1911 with the diamond mounted as a headpiece on a three-tiered circlet of large white diamonds. Sometime later it became the pendant on a diamond necklace as we know it today. Mrs. McLean’s flamboyant ownership of the stone lasted until her death in 1947.
Harry Winston Inc. of New York City purchased Mrs. McLean’s entire jewelry collection, including the Hope Diamond, from her estate in 1949. This collection also included the 94.8-carat Star of the East diamond, the 15-carat Star of the South diamond, a 9-carat green diamond, and a 31-carat diamond which is now called the McLean diamond.
For the next 10 years the Hope Diamond was shown at many exhibits and charitable events world wide by Harry Winston Inc., including as the central attraction of their Court of Jewels exhibition. On November 10, 1958, they donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution, and almost immediately the great blue stone became its premier attraction.
The Hope Diamond has left the Smithsonian only four times since it was donated. In 1962, it was exhibited for a month at the Louvre in Paris, France, as part of an exhibit entitled Ten Centuries of French Jewelry. In 1965, the Hope Diamond traveled to South Africa where it was exhibited at the Rand Easter Show in Johannesburg. In 1984, the diamond was lent to Harry Winston Inc., in New York, as part of the firm’s 50th anniversary celebration. In 1996, the Hope Diamond was again sent to Harry Winston Inc., in New York, this time for cleaning and some minor restoration work.
The weight of the Hope Diamond for many years was reported to be 44.5 carats. In 1974, it was removed from its setting and found actually to weigh 45.52 carats. It is classified as a type IIb diamond, which are semiconductive and usually phosphoresce. The Hope Diamond phosphoresces a strong red color, which will last for several seconds after exposure to short wave ultra-violet light. The diamond’s blue coloration is attributed to trace amounts of boron in the stone.
In the pendant surrounding the Hope Diamond are 16 white diamonds, both pear-shapes and cushion cuts. A bail is soldered to the pendant where Mrs. McLean would often attach other diamonds including the McLean diamond and the Star of the East. The necklace chain contains 45 white diamonds.
In December of 1988, a team from the Gemological Institute of America visited the Smithsonian to grade the great blue stone using present day techniques. They observed that the gem shows evidence of wear, has a remarkably strong phosphorescence, and that its clarity is slightly affected by a whitish graining which is common to blue diamonds. They described the color as a fancy dark grayish-blue. An examination on the same day by another gemologist using a very sensitive colorimeter revealed that there is a very slight violet component to the deep blue color which is imperceptible to the naked eye. Still, one can only wonder that the original 112 3/16-carat stone bought by Tavernier was described as “un beau violet” (a beautiful violet).
Source: Smithsonian Institution